By Jen Mannas, PAWS Naturalist
What better day to talk about beavers than International Beaver Day? PAWS Wildlife Center has rehabilitated and released several beavers over the years, and has been fortunate to be involved in beaver research taking place right here in Washington.
Beavers sometimes get a bad rap when in fact they're actually a very important species and vital to the health of watersheds.
Given their nocturnal habits you may never have seen a beaver in the wild, but I'm sure you will have seen their handy work!
Beavers are environmental engineers, meaning they can alter the environment they live in – creating better habitat for plants and other animals.
This engineering capability is shown through their very precise and strategic way of building dams and lodges.
These dams trap and hold water, creating a complex of deep and shallow ponds and braided stream channels. These waterways are then used by fish, birds, mammals, and amphibians for nesting, foraging, and protection from predators.
Beaver dams also slow down erosive flood waters, improve water quality, and recharge groundwater.
Although beavers are important for a healthy ecosystem, we'll admit they can sometimes be hard to live with. There is research currently being conducted to figure out ways people can coexist better with them, and at the same time use their natural talents to restore habitat and ecosystem processes that have been destroyed.
We've been fortunate to work with The Sky Beaver Project—a collaboration between Beavers Northwest and the Tulalip tribe—on just this kind of research in Washington.
One of the goals of the project is to relocate nuisance beavers from the Puget Sound lowlands into headwater streams in the Skykomish River watershed (where beavers are scarce).
By doing so, it's possible to restore habitat in areas where the sediment has been disturbed, to alter the hydrology, and to help reduce the impacts of climate change.
In relocating nuisance beavers, The Sky Beaver Project first works closely with landowners to try and manage them, using non-lethal controls such as installing pond leveling and exclusion devices. If that doesn’t work, beavers are trapped and relocated for the study.
Beavers are captured at night and transported to a husbandry facility where they are held for a short period of time before being released in the Skykomish watershed. This gives ample time for the researchers to catch an entire family, or play match maker with any individuals they catch alone!
Before the beavers can be transported to their new home, researchers spend lots of time scouting out the best possible release sites. They try to find an area that has:
- Ample food available
- Potential for the beavers to convert the site into a pond
- A site away from people and infrastructure
When the perfect site is located, researchers build a makeshift lodge out of sticks to release the beavers into. Watch footage of two beavers being released into their new home last year:
Can't see the video? Try watching it on our Vimeo channel instead.
This lodge provides protection while the beavers settle into their new territory. The researchers then monitor the beavers after their release using wildlife cameras.
With the success of research projects like this one, it is possible to restore upland waterways to historic levels and, as a result, increase the habitat quality for animals and humans alike.
For more information on this project—and other research being conducted by Beavers Northwest—visit their website at www.beaversnw.org.
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